Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I was excited by the article “Activists push for chimp to be declared a ‘person’,” May 5th largely because of the fascinating philosophical issues it raises and the currents in modern culture that it exposes. Personally, I disagree with the notion of animals - even high order animals like chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins - being declared “persons” and afforded“rights” largely one two grounds. First, contrary to most popular thinking, the majority of human beings are not“persons” either, properly speaking, so it seems incredible to afford the epithet to lower order creatures. Second, contrary to most popular thinking, animals are not deserving of“rights” because they have no capacity to bear corresponding responsibility in our society. I do not mean that animals, children, or adult humans of both diminished capacity and full capacity ought not to have “rights.” Of course they ought to. But I mean that they do not“deserve” them. In fact, most of us do not “deserve” the things we think we are entitled o, strictly speaking. But many are unaware of it because the distinction between due reward (a right) and undue reward (a gift, sprung from Grace) have been so successfully blurred and then lost by fuzzy thinking.
I know that the dictionary defines a person simply as a human being and that grammatically, in English at least,“person” is used as the singular of “people.” But in a deeper sense, humanity is what we are born with sans effort, while personality, or personhood is something that we achieve through the course of life, through striving and effort. Personhood is an achievement, not a right, making it a different order trait than mere humanity itself. Its acquisition is not through the dispensation of courts and parliaments, or in the case of human beings through accident of birth, but through other means.
But I could be wrong.
Published on Sunday, May 20, 2007 as “Personhood is an achievement.”
I feel strongly about the animal rights movement. I oppose it on Christian religious grounds. Human beings are made in the image of God. Animals are not. Animals are not people, nor are they equal to people. Most human beings do not“deserve” rights, so why should we extend them to animals? That’s a very contentious assertion, that most human beings do not deserve rights. But I find that most people grossly over-estimate their entitlements in life. Europeans more than North Americans just seem to become unhinged about so-called animal rights. Certainly proper care of animals is a moral position, and cruelty is immoral. But if the proposition is that animals deserve rights as humans deserve them because animals are analogous to us to some degree - in their cognition, as with sea mammals like dolphins and whales, or their capacity to suffer - then I disagree.